Tuesday 12 December 2017

Television: Sex, marriage and chilly dramas are all something of a mystery...

Mysterious liaisons: Ben Chaplin and Emily Watson in Apple Tree Yard
Mysterious liaisons: Ben Chaplin and Emily Watson in Apple Tree Yard

John Boland

The great American contrarian Gore Vidal was of the view that couples who felt the need to consult sex manuals shouldn't be having sex in the first place. By the same token, should people who are considering a permanent basis to their relationships be attending televised counselling sessions? Do they not know enough about each other already? Or is the prospect of publicity the deciding factor?

That, at any rate, was what struck me while watching the second instalment of Then Comes Marriage? (RTÉ2), despite self-confessed "control freak" Nicola's feeble insistence that "I don't like talking about anything, really". So what was she doing there?

Well, at least she got to listen to psychotherapist Ray and psychologist Allison, who once again proved themselves adept at Sybil Fawlty's Mastermind subject, the bleeding obvious - Allison assuring one couple that "empathy is the cornerstone of relationships" and Ray decreeing it "okay to get frustrated as long as you can talk yourself through the frustration" before helpfully adding: "That's communication."

Ray was also partial to uplifting mantras, exhorting Tom and Jess to "heal yourselves, lick your wounds, love each other" and expressing the hope that they "find life again and let life find you". Hmmm, they hadn't seemed that troubled to me, but what do I know?

The second and concluding episode of Race Matters: John Connor in America (RTÉ2) began with the Traveller presenter bleakly stating that "if race relations didn't improve under Obama, they're hardly going to improve now" and noting that America "must be a scary place today for anyone black, brown or illegal".

Last week's instalment had concerned the grim realities facing blacks in the US, while this week he focused on the no less troubling plight of Native Americans, whose 300 reservations contain some of the nation's poorest people.

In doing so, he made direct links with the situation of Travellers in Ireland, arguing that "so many of the issues are similar: high suicide rates, problems with drugs and alcohol, discrimination, and loss of language and cultural identity".

This striving for connections wasn't always entirely persuasive, but the programme was proactive and Connor elicited striking stories and observations from some of the Native Americans he encountered.

In the final episode of Striking Out (RTÉ1), lawyer Tara arrived for dinner on dishy café-owner Pete's houseboat (but of course) and he confided that his previous relationship had ended because "I wanted children and she didn't. Deal-breaker". What a guy. Indeed, earlier a friend of Tara had taken one look at him and gushed "Oh my God! Tell me you're already carrying his baby!"

Anyway, back on the houseboat, Tara and Pete were leaning in for their first snog when, wouldn't you know, Tara's phone rang and wasn't it her criminal young assistant, Ray, who'd just been incarcerated for carrying a bag of weed on his person. So the snog was immediately deferred, at least until the drama's second season.

With that prospect in mind, the makers didn't bother tidying up any loose ends. When the final credits rolled, Eric was still the surly cheating ex-fiancé, his lizardly father Richard's law firm was still seemingly the only legal practice in the country, Pete had yet to get his snog, and the storylines were as daft and the dialogue as duff as ever.

But wait: why, in the very last scene, was super-sleuth and supposed pal Meg spotted in deep conversation with lizardly Richard? "Someone is trying to destroy us," whispered Tara to Eric, but hold on a minute - with snog-starved Pete now in her life, why was she talking to cheating Eric anyway? It was all a mystery, though I'm content to let it remain that way.

There were mysteries, too, in the other week's dramas. Why would 50-year-old eminent scientist and married mother Yvonne embark on a reckless affair with a mysterious, unnamed man who favoured semi-clothed vertical sex in alleyways, toilets and House of Commons broom cupboards?

That was the situation in the first episode of the four-part Apple Tree Yard (BBC1), which was adapted from a psychological thriller by Louise Doughty and which began with the handcuffed Yvonne being locked in a police cell. So we can gather it doesn't end well.

In fact, the opening episode ended very nastily, with Yvonne horribly raped by a resentful colleague. So is it revenge on this repellent creature that lands her in police custody? I do hope so.

Emily Watson was excellent as Yvonne and Ben Chaplin intriguing as her mysterious lover, though whether their performances will be enough to keep me watching remains to be seen.

There were mysteries, too, in Case (Channel 4), an Icelandic thriller which began this week with the apparent suicide of a teenage ballerina - the main one being: why was every trope of gloomy Nordic drama being rehashed almost to the point of parody?

But if you simply can't get enough of chilly landscapes, brooding detectives, sleazy lawyers and creepy subsidiary characters, who am I to stop you - though the remaining episodes can only be viewed on the online All Four.

Then there's the sixth season of Homeland (RTÉ2), whose second episode largely concerned the now psychotic Quinn as Carrie tried to mind him in her Brooklyn brownstone. "He's not happy, Carrie," said pal Max in the understatement of the century. But at least Carrie finally got to do that great agonised grimace we've come to love.

Still, something exciting would need to happen soon in a series that so far has been stronger on foreboding than on action.

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